On Peace on Earth: Essay for December 24, 2011

As December 25th draws close every year I think we all begin to wish for a calmness to settle over us. I know I purposely squint my eyes to create a gauzy glow to filter out the bad news and seek more uplifting stories of human triumph. Amid the din of sad news there is often a silver lining of some sort. Like the unexpectedly good B-side of an old 45 single, there are stories of Peace on Earth this year. Sometimes they strike you immediately; sometimes you have to look hard for them; and sometimes they emerge from despair.

Take the Women’s World Cup soccer final between a heavily favored US team and the very much underdog Japan team, only four months after the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Honshu. It was a special match from the onset as the Japanese team unfurled a banner of thanks to a generous world in the aftermath of the destruction. Their confidence grew in direct proportion to their level of play as they ultimately took down the giant US team on penalty kicks. The significance of the event was not lost on the US team as both teams joined in on the joyous celebration, cementing this event as a bona fide Peace on Earth moment.

Some acts of peace don’t end well for the messenger but have the power to transform by their sheer courage. The name Mohammed Bouazizi may not strike a familiar cord to most. In Tunisia, he was the street vendor whose self-immolation defined defiance of the Tunisian regime. His death sparked demonstrations that led to riots that led to the Arab Spring. The Near East will not be the same for another generation or more. And while the road to a peace will be a difficult one, Bouazizi’s death may someday be viewed as a turning point against autocracy and tyranny. He posted this on Facebook before his death:

“I’m traveling, mom. Put no blame on me. I’m lost in a road I have not chosen. Forgive me if I ever disobeyed you. Blame these days, don’t blame me. I’m leaving with no return. I’ve had enough of crying and no tears came out of my eyes. There’s no need to blame this age of treachery in this estranged land. I’m tired and putting everything behind. I’m traveling and I’m wondering if the travel will help me forget.”

Ironically, sometimes acts of extreme violence clear the way for acts of peace. We reserve a very small space in history for people whom we believe to be better off dead than alive. Osama bin Laden is such a man. When the US Navy’s SEAL Team Six daringly assaulted his compound and killed the man who was the architect of some of the most dastardly terrorist attacks in history, the world was a little closer to Peace on Earth. Unfortunately, it was just a little bit.
That Peace on Earth is an elusive goal is no secret. That is why we use upper case letters as if it is a chapter title in some book. At an individual level, the lower case “p” level, we can look to acts of peace on earth all around us. I see peace as I pass by Hopedale Pond as the mist forms in the early morning; I see peace in a sunrise as the rays pierce the darkness; I see peace in the eyes of children as they sing carols to the elderly whose memories are wonderfully jarred by the familiar strains of harmony; I see peace in the efforts of families heading home for the holidays to the one place they know they can be at peace; I see peace in the Christmas Story as told by the apostles.

We all wish we could magically grant the upper case Peace on Earth to all citizens of this planet. Woefully, we cannot. But we can work our magic one person, one act at a time; keeping close to mind the teachings of our faith to treat our fellow man as we would have them treat us. That would be a great start. And from what the sacrifice of Mohammed Bouazizi taught us, great starts are often all it takes.
I wish for all of you this holiday season a lower case peace on earth and a very Merry Christmas.

Press on.

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